Chernihiv (Chernigiv, Chernigov, Czernihów, Tshernigov) | Chernihiv

View in the city of Chernihiv © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum Oleksandra K., born in 1927: “I saw a truck arrive. Five people got off and started to fire.  I down know who they were. Most likely, they were Germans.”   © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum Yahad team with the witness at the execution site, so called Berzovy rov, close to the village of Koty © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum Yakov S., half-Jewish, was saved with his younger brother by a policeman who managed to free them from the house where they were detained. Once free, his mother hid in the nearby village with their non-Jewish grandfather © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum Gerard was born in 1925: "In November, the Jews were rounded up in the Red Square of Chernigiv, then brought in the direction of the village of Koty and shot." © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum Gerard K. shows the Yahad team the numerous execution sites of Jews exterminated by Nazis in the fall of 1941 © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum Local prison, today it is still a prison, where many Jews were imprisoned and shot in the fall of 1941  © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum The Jews were lined up at the edge of this ravine and shot with a sub-machine gun. © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum The road by which the Jews were taken to the execution site  © Kate Kornberg/Yahad-In Unum / Market square in Chernihiv. PreRevolution photo. © Taken from jewua.org Chernigov Red square. PreRevolution photo © Taken from jewua.org Sewing School “Trud”. Photo by 1920’s from JOINT Archiv © Taken from jewua.org Workers of local factory in 1926© Taken from jewua.org Chernigov Jews before killing© Taken from jewua.org Chernigov railway station after liberation in 1943© Taken from jewua.org

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Execution of Jews in Chernihiv

2 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before :
Several sites in the city/ Ravine close to the village of Koty
Memorials :
Yes
Period of occupation:
1941-1943
Number of victims :
About 2000

Witness interview

Yakov S., who was born in 1935 and is half-Jewish, shares his personal story: “My father was Jewish and my mother was Ukrainian. Once the war broke out, my father was enlisted in the army and we stayed with my mother and younger brother, alone. At the beginning, everything was calm, but after a while, they started to arrest the Jews. Normally, during the round-ups, my mother took me and my younger brother to the nearby villages, where we stayed a while. This was possible because the policemen who conducted the round ups were from the villages and they didn’t know all the Jews living in the city. But, one day, we didn’t have time to hide and the policemen arrested us because we were Jews, half Jews to be accurate. When they came to take us, it was winter and there was snow. They put us on a sleigh and took us to house in Kholmy. Even if my mother wasn’t arrested, she went with us. She walked near the sleigh and a policeman threatened her to return home and if not, she would also be killed. But she didn’t even hesitate; she just followed the sleigh. Once there, we were imprisoned in the house where we stayed for a while. My mother was’t allowed to stay with us… ” (Witness n°1979, interviewed in Chernihiv, on November 26, 2015)

Soviet archives

“In the early fall of 1941, not far from the house, 30 people were brought to dig the pit. The following day, a canvas-covered truck arrived. The Germans and then the policemen got off the truck and started to unload the people from the truck, including men, women, and children. They were brought towards the pit, where they had to disrobe and then descend to the bottom of the pit, where they were shot. For one week, the trucks brought people regularly to that place. The executions were conducted by Germans and policemen secured the area. The children were thrown alive into the pit. Many German officers were present during the shootings of civilians. Later, the mentally ill from the psychiatric hospital were also shot at this place. They were brought under special guard because they were very agitated. After 1941, there were no more shootings at this place. [Witness’ deposition, Yevgeniy N., made on June 12, 1944 to the Extraordinary State Commission; RG 22.002M. Fond 7021, Opis 78, Delo 31]

German archives

“(…) I remember one execution conducted in the woods outside of the city. According to my memory, a covered truck arrived. Once the doors were opened, I saw the corpses of both sexes being unloaded into the pit by a work column. Afterwards, I saw other civilians being shot at the same site (…) among them were most likely women, but I don’t think that there were children.” [Deposition of a KdO member of Chernihiv, Konrad K., taken on April 25, 1966; B162-7671 p.141]

Historical note

Chernihiv, founded in the 10th century, is a historic city in northern Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Chernihiv Oblast, as well as of the surrounding Chernihiv district within the oblast. The first record of Jewish settlement dates back to the 11th century. In 1239, the town was destroyed by Tatar Mongols and was resettled by Jews again in the middle of the 17th century when the town was under Polish administration. During the course of its history, the Jewish communities in Chernihiv city and region were destroyed completely or partially during the pogroms in 1648, 1905 and 1918. Many Jews were killed and their buildings and stores were destroyed and looted. At the end of the 19th century, the Jews comprised one third of the town’s total population. The majority of Jews engaged in commerce and crafts (such as tailoring and shoemaking) and also in tobacco growing. There were at least six synagogues, Talmud Torah, and elementary schools. In the 1920s, many institutions for children, such as sewing school for girls, smith and locksmith school for boys, were opened and financed by the JOINT.

 Under Soviet administration, all religious institutions were closed and Jewish stores were nationalized. During this period, Jews worked in government offices, stores and artisanal cooperatives. Many worked in a large textile factory. In the 1930s, many Jews left Chernihiv for larger cities.

In 1939, there were 12,204 Jews in the city, comprising 18% of the total population. The city was occupied by German forces on September 9, 1941. By that time, less than half of the prewar Jews managed to flee to the East. The men of eligible age were enrolled in the army.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Immediately after the Germans’ arrival, all the Jews from the city were registered and marked with the armbands bearing the Star of David. They were subjected to forced labor. Shortly thereafter, all of the Jews from Chernihiv were moved to the area of two streets close to the old market. The anti-Jewish measures were carried out by Sonderkommando units (7 b and 4a) with the help of the Ukrainian police. As Chernihiv was the head city of the Chernihiv district, the German administration was installed there. The Jewish population of Chernihiv was exterminated over several aktions that lasted from September to December 1941, along with the Jews brought from the nearby villages of the district, like Shchors, Kozelets, and Koryukivka.

 The first execution of Jews took place in late September 1941, when 19 Jews were shot. On October 23, 116 Jews were killed and on October 24, another 144 Jews were shot by Sonderkommando 4a. A few days later, the same unit arrested 49 Jews (according to one German source) or 48 people, including 30 Jews and 18 partisans (according to another German source), and shot them at a place known as Krivoliovshchina. In total, there were 11 mass graves where about 20 thousand people were murdered, including 3000 prisoners of war, 2000 patients from the local hospital and an undetermined number of Jews.

 The biggest action was conducted in November 1941, when at least 1000 victims were exterminated outside of the city, close to the village of Koty, at the Berezovy Rov ravine. On this day, according to the local witness, all the Jews were gathered on the Red Square and from there, they marched or were taken in trucks to the ravine, where they were shot in groups. According to the archives, about 500 mentally ill people were also executed at this location in the fall of 1941. Those who weren’t shot during this action were rounded up and confined in the prison. They were shot in small groups in the yards of the prison or in other areas. In total, the Extraordinary State Commission discovered 16 mass graves on the territory of the prison. Among the victims were Jews and prisoners of war.

 Another large execution site of Jews is located in the Podusovka Ravine. The commission discovered 11 mass graves where about 7000 civilians, including Jews and prisoners of war were murdered. 

 During the war, Jews from the Chernigov District were active in partisan units. Due to the large number of people to exterminate, the Germans proceeded to use different execution methods, such as gas trucks or poisoning. Many victims, especially mentally ill people and patients from the hospital, were killed in gas trucks and their bodies were thrown in the ravines, for instance in the Rayevshchina ravine, where 24 mass graves were discovered.  In addition to the Jews, the Gypsies, the prisoners of war, local activists and partisans and local inhabitants were also persecuted by the Germans.

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